Tuesday, June 14, 2005


The BBC reports that bloggers in China who use Microsoft's blogging software MSN Spaces are restricted from using terms such as "freedom," "democracy" and "Taiwan independence." Microsoft is apparently compling with Chinese law in preventing users in China from posting these type of terms.

Not suprisingly, there are many people blaming Microsoft for complying with Chinese government censorship and oppression. Reporters Without Borders has stated:

The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.

We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating.
Conversely, a Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC,
Microsoft is a multi-national business and as such needs to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world.
I agree with Microsoft. As a world-wide corporation Microsoft is responsible to the diverse laws of the many jursdictions it operates in and also to acheiving the best financial results for its sharholders and employees. Microsoft and other companies do not have some kind of greater ethical responsibility to oppose Chinese censorship at the risk of their business. It would be commendable if the company took a stronger stand on this issue but it should not be expected.

The larger question is: given the argument for Microsoft above, is Microsoft in China an example of how greater freedom of markets in that country will somehow lead to greater political and civil freedoms for Chinese citizens?

Microsoft, like all other companies, does not care about the degree of political freedom in China, as long as its executives and shareholders are satisfied with the company's profits. This is not some nefarious capitalist scheme, it is the way things are supposed to work; it is fine, necessary, even great. But it is not the answer to greater freedom in China, or anywhere else.

Expanded economic freedom does not lead directly to expanded civil, political and social freedoms. Microsft can operate in China while the people of China remain oppressed.

Posted by Matthew @ 7:32 p.m.

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The missing element in every human 'solution' is an
accurate definition of the creature. The way we define
'human' determines our view of self, others, relationships,
institutions, life, and future. Important? Only the Creator
who made us in His own image is qualified to define us
accurately. Choose wisely...there are results.

Many problems in human experience are the result of false
and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised in man-
made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by nature
and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of Criteria.
Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive characteristic
is, and of Right ought to be, the natural foundation of his
environments, institutions, and respectful relations to his
fellow-man. Thus, he is oriented to a Freedom whose roots
are in the Order of the universe.

Posted by Blogger James Fletcher Baxter @ June 15, 2005 9:56 a.m. #

I disagree that with Microsoft did here is ok or somehow justifiable under free enterprise. It's a good thing for companies to have a wide berth in how they conduct their operations, sure. However an absolute reading of such principles, as you seem to have, takes no account of the ramifications of supporting the Chinese police state. China is poised to surpass the US as the world's biggest economy, eventually likely becoming the greatest polluter and maybe the first to successfully weaponize space, all the while despots (who really do put their people under tyranny, even if George Bush says they do) will be at the helm. The stakes are too great to think notions of free enterprise should dictate policy.

The internet presents a rare opportunity for dissent to be disseminated cheaply and en masse. In Iran it has been an amazing tool for galvanizing opinion against the mullahs. It is a grave mistake to miss this opportunity in China.

Furthermore I think you fundamentally misunderstand things when you cite MS as following the laws of other jurisdictions it operates in. When MS capitulates to German or French law filtering Nazi websites, or US law filtering pornography, those are largely sensible restrictions and not analogous to China stopping terms like ‘Tibet’, ‘Falun Gong’, ‘Dalai Lama’, or ‘June 4th’ (date of Tiananmen). Either you didn’t really think about what you were saying with MS simply respecting the laws of jurisdictions where it operates or you are confusing pluralism with relativism.

But in case you are not convinced that the Chinese threat is serious, consider: weaponizing space means having strike capability anywhere in the world within 45min. It is effectively a veto on the actions of any rival. When wielded by unaccountable despots as is the case with China, may likely be exercised capriciously.

Posted by Blogger Hockey Jones @ June 25, 2005 11:26 a.m. #
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